International Institute of Social History

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International Institute of Social History
Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis
IISG Amsterdam
Posthumus, director (1937-1952) and founding father of the IISH

The International Institute of Social History (IISG) is one of the largest archives for labour, left and social history in the world. It is an independent scientific institute in Amsterdam. The IISG is part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was founded in 1935 by Nicolaas Posthumus. The large archives of the institute (ca. 50 km) harbor invaluable and extensive papers of several international social movements and currents, including papers of individuals such as Rosa Luxemburg, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin.[1]

History of the institute[edit]

The International Institute of Social History was founded in 1935 by Nicolaas Posthumus.[2] To examine how labour relations develop over time, IISG collected archives from all over the world. During the first years Posthumus succeeded in obtaining many papers from anarchists (Bakunin manuscripts), other socialist and social democratic and Marxist movements from Germany and Russia.

Before the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Posthumus was able to move the most valuable archives to London. During the war, many remaining IISG archives were transported to Nazi Germany. They were not destroyed. Most of the papers were rediscovered in Hannover in 1946, and some other parts were later found in archives in Moscow in 1991, and returned to Amsterdam.[3]

In 1989 the International Institute of Social History moved to new premises: an old warehouse at the Cruquiusweg in the eastern part of Amsterdam. This building also housed the Press Museum but in 2017 that museum became a part of the Dutch Institute for Image and Sound (Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid) in Hilversum.[4]


The personal archives at the International Institute of Social History are extensive, including (among many others) the collections of the papers of Diego Abad de Santillán, Alexander Atabekian, Angelica Balabanoff, Bernt Carlsson, Ruth Fischer, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Hilferding, Karl Kautsky, Gustav Landauer, Arthur Lehning, Max Nettlau, Theodor Liebknecht, Toma Sik, Andre Gunder Frank and Leon Trotsky.

There are also many institutional archives, among which the archives of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Red Army Faction and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (well over 200 m.). One of its most famous archives are the archives of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and its political arm, the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). These archives were smuggled out of Spain during the Spanish Civil War and made their way to Paris branch of the IISG in secret. The archives contain information regarding military activities, correspondence and financial documents. Other anarchist archives were destroyed during the war or remain lost which makes these collection in the IISG all the more valuable.[5]

In the last decades the IISG also acquired the archives of Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

A related institution is the Swiss Social Archives in Zurich.

Historian of anarchism Paul Avrich wrote that the institute is the foremost repository of anarchist documents in the world.[6]


  1. ^ History of IISG
  2. ^ Bergvelt, Ellinoor; Knegtmans, Peter Jan; Schilder, Marian (2007). "Nicolaal Wilhelmus Posthumus (1880-1960)". Colourful professors: 375 years of portraiture in the collection of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Amsterdam UP. pp. 120–21. ISBN 9789056294496.
  3. ^ History of IISG (more)
  4. ^ "Persmuseum en Beeld en Geluid: Verder als één organisatie". Beeld en Geluid. 27 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Spanish Civil War Collection Guide". International Institute of Social History. 27 July 2018.
  6. ^ Avrich, Paul (1979). "Review of The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism". The American Historical Review. 84 (5): 1467–1468. doi:10.2307/1861661. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1861661.

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